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Then and now: Once upon a time Hembree Brandon had dark hair.

After 45 years, time to say so long

That you've read and often commented on — good or bad — something I've written, I am extremely grateful, even to those whose letters and e-mails began “Dear Idiot Brandon” (or worse).

I hate goodbyes.

They are all too often so final: childhood friends who move away and we never see again; classmates who chase dreams and success and lose touch; lost loves; deaths, funerals.

I could not have imagined, when I came to Delta Farm Press 45 years ago end of November, that my time for shuffling off the stage would come so quickly.

Where did the years go?

When I was leaving my previous newspaper job to move to Clarksdale, Miss., to join the editorial staff of an impressively successful and rapidly expanding agricultural publishing operation, an editor friend sent a note: “I’m sorry you’re leaving the real newspaper world.”

Truth tell, I was just a bit sorry, too. I came to Farm Press expecting to stay maybe a year or two, then back to the “real” newspaper world. Surprise, surprise: Agriculture turned out to be as interesting, challenging, intriguing, and fulfilling as anything I’d done before, with some of the greatest people one could hope to know, all with fascinating stories of how they came to be farmers, and what kept them farming despite the adversities of weather, pests, diseases, markets, and governments. Ditto for the agribusiness people, ginners, Extension specialists, researchers, all contributing to the vitally important work of agriculture.

For someone who’d had a rather provincial existence to that point, there came undreamed-of opportunities to travel — I’ve stood in awe before the Great Pyramid of Giza and the centuries-old mysterious Sphinx; wondered at the strange monolithic formations of Stonehenge; felt insignificant in the midst of the vast Argentine pampas with billions of stars twinkling brilliantly in an breathtakingly ink-black sky; beheld majestic mountain vistas, oceans, lakes, streams; and had memorable visits with farmers on most of the continents (sadly, never made it to Australia), all of them, invariably, with an innate love for the land and the desire that it be kept and cherished into succeeding generations.

Over the years, I spent countless hours in airplanes, hurtling thither and yon, but I never grew tired of looking out at the ever-changing skies, cloud formations, sunrises, sunsets, lightning storms, rainbows, and the marvelous, intricately-patterned earth below, particularly the geometrically distinct patterns of farms, irrigation circles, etc. Always fascinated with flying, I still automatically look skyward when I hear an airplane passing overhead.

Through the four and a half decades of my Farm Press career, I have been continually entranced by the marvelously complex and fascinating world of U.S. agriculture and the people who've kept it — through good times and bad — the most productive food and fiber machine on the planet.

You’re the finest, and it is my great privilege to have known and worked with so many of you … and learned from you. Thank you for your generosity of time and friendship, and your loyalty and support for our publications.

That gratitude also applies in spades to the Farm Press crew, a tightly knit group of very talented, very dedicated people who make possible the best ag publications in the business. They have been, for these many years, family, and I will immensely miss them being a part of my daily life.

In my Farm Press years, our two children have grown into middle age; parents, classmates, family members, and many, many of those in agriculture that I’ve crossed paths with over the decades, are long retired or have died. Darling grandchildren have come along and have tremendously brightened our lives. The eldest, who seemingly not that long ago was a baby in my arms, will be a college grad this spring (she and her mother will receive degrees at the same time). The other girls, one 16 and the twins 13, have before my eyes all too soon become young women, each different, each her own person, each the source of many wonderful memories.

I did a very rough estimate of how many words I've written in my 60-odd years of newspapering. It came to several million, using everything from manual typewriters (remember them?) to IBM Selectrics (a major technology advance for its day and a great typewriter —many is the time I lugged one of those 50-pound machines up the stairs to a motel room somewhere so I could write up the day’s notes), to today’s unbelievably sophisticated laptop computers.

That you've read and often commented on — good or bad — some of the words I've written, I am extremely grateful, even to those whose letters and e-mails began “Dear Idiot Brandon” (or worse).

One of the distressing things, concurrent with the rise of the internet, social media, and 24/7 talk TV/radio, has been the decline of civility and respect for others’ opinions. No one has a monopoly on truth and right, myself very much included, and to those who took issue with my writings but did so in a thoughtful, reasoned manner, you were muchly appreciated. This country was built, and has survived and become the greatest nation on the face of the earth, on the premise that men and women of good will, working together for the common good, can achieve great things. Would that many of today’s leaders could rediscover that principle.

When we’re young and all the world lies ahead, we never give a thought to being old. Then children come along to care for and love, there are responsibilities of work and community, yards to mow, leaves to rake, a thousand and one things to do while we pay little heed to the clock’s relentless tick, tick, tick. Being old is something that’s way out there, that afflicts someone else. Then, poof!, the decades have vanished and an old person stares back from the mirror,

William Saroyan, among this country’s great short story writers, who lived and worked in the midst of the diverse agriculture of early-day Fresno, Calif., published a little book in his later years entitled, “I Used To Believe I Had Forever — Now I’m Not So Sure.”

I can relate.

So many thoughts, so many memories — alas, too many for this space.

I hate goodbyes.

Let’s just say “so long” for now…

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